When we talk about the coolest vehicles in the movies, the first ones that come to mind may be the Mustang in "Bullitt," the Trans Am from "Smokey and the Bandit," the Dodge police car from "The Blues Brothers," or any of the Aston Martins James Bond drove. But what about the equally cool trucks from film and television? How would Bandit (Burt Reynolds), Snowman (Jerry Reed), and Fred the basset hound have gotten their beer supply to Georgia without the big rig? How would Scooby-Doo's meddling kids get to the scene of the crime without the Mystery Machine? Don't forget the black-and-red van from "The A-Team" television show and movie. Here are some of our favorites from the recent past, as well as sneak previews of trucks starring in upcoming movies. Enjoy!
We were invited to visit the set of the movie "Fast Five," the upcoming sequel in the "Fast and the Furious" series, which comes out April 29. Without giving away too much of the plot, there is a heist, there are plenty of performance cars, and some of the story takes place in Rio de Janeiro. The big surprise, though, is that there are quite a few trucks that are essential to the story, unlike the earlier "Fast" films, which featured mainly street racers.
Regions of San Juan, Puerto Rico, doubled as Rio, and while we were there, we saw chase scenes and gun battles. We also interviewed Dennis McCarthy, who helped get all the vehicles together for the movie. He was in charge of coordinating the right modifications for each vehicle. He's also worked on "The Green Hornet," several of the other "Fast and Furious" movies, "Death Race," "Live Free and Die Hard," "Herbie Fully Loaded," and "Batman Begins."
The trucks seen in the heist scene are completely custom, but their most recognizable aspect is their cabs, which come from Oshkosh militarytrucks found at a military salvage yard. Dimensions of the trucks were defined by their use in the film-the deck height had to match that of the train cars, and length had to be as short as possible for maneuverability. The engine, a 500-plus-horsepower fuel-injected GM Ram Jet 502 big-block crate motor, had to be put in a lower position within each chassis to lower the center of gravity-to make them more controllable in jumps-and set up to allow for a 50/50 front/rear weight bias. The monster truck-like suspension was customized by guys known for preparing trophy trucks and off-road race buggies. The plan was to give the trucks big wheels and tires, suspension with a lot of travel, and the ability to jump multiple times with as little damage as possible. And jump multiple times they did. Corey Eubanks (Bob Eubanks' son) did the jump work for this scene, launching the massive vehicles 75 feet forward and about 25 feet off the ground. For each jump, there were GoPro HD digital video cameras mounted at each suspension point; afterwards, the team would review the files to determine if the tuning was correct. The trucks' front axle is a widened Dana 60 from a Chevy K30, while the rear axle is a Dana 70. The suspension uses Fox bypass shocks, dual-stage shocks, and nitrogen-charged bump stops.
There were SUVs in "Fast Five" as well. McCarthy originally hoped to get four Land Rover Defender 110s to use as police vehicles, but that would've been beyond the vehicle budget (each 110 can cost $50,000 to $60,000). Instead, he found much less expensive International Scout IIs. Each was modified with a Chevy 350 small-block and a Turbo 400 transmission, Postal Jeep-type straight tube front axle, full rollcage, and a Ford 9-inch rearend. Four were built, and they are so heavily disguised that most people won't recognize them as Scouts. Two other key SUVs are two custom GMC Yukons, although a total of nine needed to be built for filming. Some were sacrificed for the sake of a specific scene; some had the right type of cabin for interior shots; some were rigged for scenes with explosions or other stunts.
One of the coolest vehicles used is an Armet Gurkha armored vehicle. (These are said to be tougher than Humvees.) The company lent filmmakers one vehicle, based on a Ford F-550 platform, and built two replicas for "Fast Five" based on the F-350. They were all powered by V-10 engines, and the F-350-based trucks use wheel adapters that make the eight-lugs compatible with 10-lug wheels so the trio looks as close to the same as possible on the screen.
Behind the scenes were also plenty of trucks you wouldn't even know were trucks. Some scenes center around a large bank vault, and for ease of filming and stunts, it made sense to create two vaults that could be driven, both based on Chevrolet pickups. (McCarthy likes to use Chevys when possible, and sticking with Chevy drivetrains makes it easy and cost-effective to find parts when necessary.) The first is a 1985 Chevrolet K30 with a 454 and an automatic; the second, a 1983 pickup powered by a small-block with a four-speed manual. Both have four-wheel steering and a shortened wheelbase. Because they didn't have air conditioning, the stunt driver had to wear a suit with a cooling system during these shots.
Along with all the cool cars in Disney-Pixar's "Cars," there also were a few great truck stars. There was Mater, McQueen's best friend; Mack, the truck that served as a race-car carrier, plus a World War II Jeep, a VW bus, fire truck and tractors. Two new vehicles, a truck and an SUV, debut in "Cars 2." The stars include:
John Lassetire The director of "Cars 2," John Lasseter, is the voice of John Lassetire, the movie's new truck. Lassetire is a pit crew chief in the World Grand Prix. This half-ton pickup has styling cues reminiscent of mid-1990s Ford F-150s and early 1980s Dodges (around the headlights).
Miles Axlerod English actor Eddie Izzard voices this SUV, which appears to have styling cues like the Land Rover Series III. The roof looks like it's covered with solar panels, and electric motors appear to be at each wheel.
Mater Mater is a dualie tow truck with styling evocative of a 1955-1957 Chevy or GMC pickup. He befriended the main character, Lightning McQueen, in "Cars," and costars in "Cars 2" as a member of McQueen's pit crew.
Mack Yes, Mack is a Mack Truck. He's Lightning McQueen's transport vehicle, and he fell asleep on the road in "Cars" while bringing the race car to the Piston Cup final race. He returns in the sequel to help out in the World Grand Prix.
This character, a World War II-era Jeep, runs the Army surplus store in Radiator Springs. He returns as a member of the McQueen team. In the sequel, not only have his doors changed to reflect the team logo, but dirt is added to the tire tread and wheels.
This 1960s-era Volkswagen Microbus with a license-plate soul patch is philosophically opposite of Sarge, yet they are best friends. He was voiced by George Carlin in the first movie, and his license plate reads "51237," Carlin's date of birth.
This fire engine is one of the townspeople in Radiator Springs. We don't know yet if he will return for the sequel, nor do we know if there will be any sightings of the tractors from the first movie.
Whether you're a fan of the 1980s TV show or the 2010 big-screen remake, you know the the four main characters rode in a full-size van. According to fan sites, the van in the TV show was a 1983 GMC G1500, also known as the Vandura, and for the movie, the van was the GMC seen here. Some of the TV show van's features include a red rear wing, aftermarket exhaust, portable phone (before the days of cell phones), CB, roof-mounted lights over the cab, white bucket seats, brush bar, and red-spoked wheels. The movie van has a winch and black seats, plus a black quilted interior.
"SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT"
"East bound and down, loaded up and truckin'..." Jerry Reed not only cowrote and sang the theme from "Smokey and the Bandit," he also played Snowman, who drove the big rig in the movie. The truck in question is a Kenworth W900, although like the Bandit's Trans Am, there were multiple trucks used in the movie. Versions of the W900 Class 8 have been in production since 1961.
"BACK TO THE FUTURE"
If you read the editor's column in the March/April issue of Truck Trend, you saw this image of the Toyota Pickup from "Back to the Future." (In the U.S., the name of the compact pickup had been Hi-Lux in the 1960s and 1970s, became Pickup in 1976, and was renamed Tacoma in 1995.) As you can see, this Pickup is far from stock-it was custom-built for the movie. The stock truck had a 22RE 2.4-liter inline-four, a five-speed manual transmission, and solid front axle. Aftermarket products include Smittybilt tube bumpers in the front and rear, a rollbar behind the cab with KC HiLites, black-out grille with two more KCs, and 15-inch wheels with 31-inch Goodyear tires.
Another popular place for trucks was the 4077 medical unit on the movie and television show "M*A*S*H." As both were set in Korea during the war in the 1950s, it would've been really difficult to show a mobile hospital unit without Jeeps. There were also World War II or Korean War-era Dodge ambulances and plenty of military vehicles. Some of the set still exists in Southern California, near Malibu. The site was originally part of the 20th Century Fox Ranch, but is now part of a state park, where there are an ambulance and a couple of Jeeps from the show.
"SCOOBY-DOO" MYSTERY MACHINE
What better way to show a van's potential than by traveling with four people and a dog to haunted amusement parks, houses, factories, swamps, and schools? The crime-fighting teens in the cartoon-and later the live-action films-were the ultimate carpoolers. There is more than one version of the Mystery Machine. There's a replica of the cartoon van at Universal Studios Hollywood (a mid-1960s Dodge), and another at Warner Bros.' Photo Car Museum, which is a part of the company's studio VIP Tour (www.wbstudiotour.com).
OSCAR MAYER WIENERMOBILE
Have you ever seen a giant hot dog on the road? This could happen anywhere in the continental U.S., as there are currently six Wienermobiles in Oscar Mayer's fleet. Wienermobiles have been around since 1936, when Mayer's nephew thought up the idea. The first was built by General Body Company in Chicago, and was a common sight in the Windy City-and later, in nationwide TV commercials. Over time the promotional vehicles grew in size, and at one point were based on a motorhome chassis. Other truck chassis included a Willys Jeep and the current model, based on a Chevrolet W4 Series chassis. The Wienermobile has more than doubled in length since the 1930s-it's now 27 feet long, 11 feet high, and 8 feet wide. The dualie, originally built in 2004, received a major overhaul in 2009, and is powered by a 6.0-liter Chevrolet Vortec V-8 and weighs 14,050 pounds (or, as Oscar Mayer explains it, the same weight as 140,500 hot dogs). It has a top speed of about 65 mph.
The six regional vehicles are driven by college students who want to go into PR or advertising. When you speak to them about their time behind the wheel, there is no shortage of puns. The hotdoggers, as they are called, do their jobs with relish. The V-8 is powered by high-octane mustard. You get the idea. Not only that, but each truck plays a CD that has 21 different versions and remixes of the Oscar Mayer jingle.
To be certified to drive the Wienermobile, students are trained by the same people who train the Madison, Wisconsin, police department, and the training takes place near Oscar Mayer company headquarters. The program is 40 hours long and begins in a minivan with blacked-out windows. Once the students complete that part of the training, they move on to driving the real thing in a controlled environment.
As you would imagine, the vehicle is totally customized. It has a gullwing-style door and a retractable step. Inside are six red-and-yellow velour and vinyl seats with hot-dog embroidery. The dash is shaped like a hot dog. Equipment includes a nav system, a CB, and a rearview camera. The transmission shifter is on the driver-side doorsill. The cabin roof is painted to look like blue sky with clouds, and there are two air-conditioners to keep the monstrous cabin nice and cool. There have been no major mechanical problems, but when the trucks go in for service, Penske dealers do the job.